On the surface, that's what you'd call Downton Abbey, now a movie taking place after six insanely great seasons of television. But if you're a fan, you know that would be over-simplifying things a bit. The series is really about the slow decline of the aristocracy in the early part of the 20th century, and the complexity of a social class system that would eventually break down. The film goes a step further by including the monarchy this time, as the plot revolves around a royal visit by the king and queen to the estate.
The thing that I loved dearly about the series was that, while the people upstairs and downstairs lived in seemingly different worlds, they were all troubled by the same human problems. The writing was skillfully composed, because with few exceptions, people at both ends of the class system were fundamentally good people, a trick that was easy to demonstrate with a number of characters who crossed the barriers of status. Whether you're an immigrant cook looking for your place, or a wealthy daughter of an aristocrat, everyone seeks meaning and purpose in life.
The movie chases that theme of purpose, just as the TV series did. It's even more clear, by the late 20's, when the film takes place, that the way of life that had been in place for generations was changing, as the world itself rapidly was. There are some surprising parallels to our own times. Technology was making the world smaller for them, especially with transportation (Lindbergh made his trans-Atlantic flight the year the movie takes place), and machines were becoming common place in most facets of life. The Internet, for better or worse, has changed the size of our world. Technology, more than ever, changes how we exist in the world.
I don't know what the budget for the movie was, but it is beautifully shot. The glamour shots of the building are there of course, as the opening sequence cleverly leads to it. But it's everything else as well... the costumes, the countryside... it's all quite lovely. Sure, it's a lot of comfort and nostalgia for fans of the show, but it's still wonderful. It won the weekend box office, which is probably not a shock when it was up against a Rambo movie (seriously, with Stallone). A good showing means we might get another movie, even though this one, like the TV show, seemed to have the intention of being an ending.